27 October 2009
Charybdis and Scylla
6h. The sun is dawning and it unveils the Stromboli crater. In its loneliness. No hills sloping down gently, no plains or adjacent valleys. Just a volcano in the middle of the sea. At the top, north-west side, some smoke feebly escapes heading toward the sky. Stromboli is sleepy at the moment but, during its fits of fury, the eruptions can follow one after the other every twenty minutes.
It is the most active volcano in Europe. The crew have just had breakfast on the deck, warmed by this nice October sun. We are reading the volume about south Italian coast nautical instructions and we are learning that vineyards and olive trees are cultivated on its basaltic sides. Through the binoculars we are trying to catch sight of the old steam mill of Ginostra, the small village uncomfortably built at the volcano’s feet.
Stromboli moves slowly away and the strait of Messina is already at the horizon.
This narrow natural channel winds along the Italian coast and Sicily. It’s only 3 km
wide at its narrowest points. “ It’s a passage crossed by many merchant ships because it’s a shortcut explains Hervé Bourmaud, the captain, “ there’s a waterway which separates the ships for safety measure. You have to notify in advance at the signal station which regulates the traffic.
Messina is also a dangerous strait and a mythological place where the terrible creatures Charybdis and Scylla are reigning. The first one, the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia (the Earth) made the mistake to steal Hercules’ cattle. Zeus, as a punishment, hurled her into the sea and turned her into a marine monster who had to gobble up the unfortunate sailors who were passing by.
Scylla, less voracious than Charybdis, was a nymph of a great beauty. A jealous magician turned her into a creature with twelve feet and six heads.
The nymph, so desperate, leaped into the strait, where she kept devouring, with her six mouths, everything passing by too closely.
We have scanned the waters, without catching sight of these marine monsters, but Charybdis and Scylla exist in the form of two strong whirlpools well known since the ancient times.